With uncertainty over wave peaking, govt. intensifies measures to stem spread

Experts say they do not have epidemiological data to say whether the current surge in cases is due to mutant strains of the virus

April 12, 2021 12:55 am | Updated 12:56 am IST - New Delhi

The COVID ward of Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality Hospital in New Delhi.

The COVID ward of Rajiv Gandhi Super Speciality Hospital in New Delhi.

The last one week saw the sharpest spike in COVID-19 cases in Delhi, since the beginning of the pandemic. The Delhi government, which has termed the spike as the “fourth wave”, announced a night curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. and shut all schools till further orders.

The Delhi government has also banned all gatherings except for marriages and funerals till April 30 and imposed other restrictions too.

Both officials and experts say they are unaware when the wave would peak or the exact reasons for the spike. Amid this, there are several cases of people testing positive for the virus for a second time, which is adding to the worry.

On Sunday, Delhi recorded 10,774 fresh COVID-19 cases — the highest since the beginning of the pandemic. Importantly, the cases have increased very rapidly in Delhi.

Sunday’s number of cases is a 166.4% increase compared to a week ago, when there were 4,033 new cases. It is a whooping 2,526.8% increase compared to 409 new cases on March 11, a month back.

Counter measures

The government has also increased beds in government and private hospitals and as on Sunday, 46.7% of the total 11,675 beds for COVID-19 treatment were vacant.

The Delhi government said that COVID Care Centres (CCC) are being reopened and some have already started functioning. Several CCCs, including the 500-bed one at the Commonwealth Games Village, was shut when the cases reduced after the last spike in November.

“Our focus is to increase the preparedness so that we can reduce the number of deaths as much as possible. We are constantly monitoring the situation and increasing the beds for COVID-19 treatment. We are also focusing on testing and on many days, we are testing more than one lakh people, which is very high compared to other States,” a health department official said.

But the official said that the government does not have a projection on how much the cases are going to increase. “People not following social distancing measures is one reason for the spike. But we do not know the exact reason for the current spike,” the official said.

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had a similar opinion. “We are in touch with experts. No one can tell at the point what will be the peak. We are preparing for it and there will be no shortcomings in our preparations,” Mr. Kejriwal told reporters on Saturday when asked about the current condition.

Ministers have several times reiterated people to wear masks and follow social distancing measures.

Current surge

Experts said that we do not have enough data to know whether the current surge is due to different variants of the virus.

“In India, at this point, we don’t have epidemiological data to say that current surge is due to mutant strains of the virus. More genome sequencing has to be done, linked to epidemiology and surveillance,” said N.K. Ganguly, former Director General of ICMR.

Giridhara R Babu, Professor at Indian Institute of Public Health, Bengaluru, also said that they don’t have enough data. “Not enough samples are tested for genome sequencing to know whether the surge is due to new variants of the virus. But I do believe that some new variants are spreading faster in Delhi. Else we cannot explain the surge happening in Delhi. But we don’t have data to establish this at this point,” Dr. Babu said.

“Canada, U.S., and U.K. have said that the spike they are facing currently is due to newer variants,” he added.

Mr. Ganguly said that most countries are facing a surge, except for a few ones where substantial percentage of the population has been vaccinated. “In India, only 5.1% of the population has been vaccinated, whereas it is 47% in the U.K. and 32% in the U.S. We have to increase the vaccination,” Mr. Ganguly said.

When asked about the current spike in Delhi, he said: “A big spike like this will take about three months to show a trend of coming down if we put in all measures in the right place, including vaccinating everyone above 18 years.”

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